Instead of trying to tackle this massively important subject in one or two weeks
I am doing four studies: 1. Background and Old Testament 2. The Teaching and Life of Jesus 3. The Blood of the Cross 4. Mercy and Judgement.
On the surface “mercy” would seem to be a very uncontroversial subject, with the biblical terminology covering overlapping words to do with pity, compassion, grace and kindness.
Though unlike pity, which focuses on a feeling, the mercy of God stirs him up to take action for the needy.
In different books of the Old Testament, the Lord is likened to a nursing mother or a father whose inner parts move him to tender mercy towards the broken state of Israel.
Overwhelmingly, the mercy of God answers to human misery1)See Biblical References Isa 49:15 ESV; Isa 63:15-16 ESV; Ps 103:13 ESV.
There’s a popular song that begins with, “Well, everyone needs compassion A love that’s never failing But let mercy fall on me”. Instinctively we all know this is true and real.
(I think that overwhelming sense of the availability of mercy was what was lacking in the now famous Israel Folau post about sinners going to hell.)
The Old Testament is permeated by testimony to the limitless mercy of God.
When Moses wanted to see the glory of the Lord, God declared himself to be, “ “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6 ESV).
In various places the declaration is made that “God is merciful”2)See Biblical References Deut 4:31 ESV; Ps 116:5 ESV; Neh 9:31 ESV with mercy “great… overall he has made”3)See Biblical References Pss 119:156 ESV; Pss 145:8-9 ESV; Pss 149:5 ESV “abounding”4)See Biblical References Deut 5:10 ESV; Pss 57:10 ESV; Pss 86:5 ESV and which “endures forever”5)See Biblical References 1 Chron 16:34 ESV; 2 Chron 7:6 ESV; Ps 136 ESV; Jer 33:11 ESV.
All the Old Testament saints deeply understood mercy was at the centre of God’s being. It was because Jonah understood, “you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jon 4:2 ESV) that he ran away from the Lord.
When David foolishly counted his soldiers he was given a choice of punishments, three years of famine, three months of fleeing foes or three days of plague, “Then David said…, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” ” (2 Sam 24:14 ESV).
MERCY AND MISERY
The Old Testament is uncomfortably direct when it comes to speaking of the fractured human condition.
David admits, vs.3 “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. vs.4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat…. let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps 32:1-4 NLT)6)See Biblical References Ps 51:8 ESV b.
Without God’s glory humans are in fearful pain, distress, anxiety, dread and torment, possessed by sin, caught in a vast network of evil, pressured by guilt and the threat of judgement and crushed by divine wrath.
The power, penalty and pollution of sin are all pervasive7)See Biblical References Job 15:20 ESV; Prov 13:15 ESV Eccl 8:6 ESV.
The Old Testament writers were blunt about our total inability to extract ourselves from final suffering and death (e.g. Ecclesiastes). But thankfully God initiates mercy continually open to release the distress of his people.
We read something very powerful in Judges about how the Lord feels about the effect of his own punishments on his people, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” (Judges 10:16 ESV).
As her covenant partner, God’s heart carried Israel’s pain, “In all their distress he too was distressed …In his love and mercy, he redeemed them” (Isa 63:9 ESV).
In deep mercy, he repeatedly sets bounds to his own anger. “ vs.7 “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies, I will gather you.vs.8With a little wrath, I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness, I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7-8 ESV)8)See Biblical References cf. Ps 78:37 ESV ff..
Though when Israel utterly rebels the prophets warn of a time of “no mercy”9)See Biblical References Hos 1:9 ESV; Hos 2:4 ESV; Zech 1:12 ESV or forgiveness.
Knowing that the Lord must punish, Habakkuk pleads, “in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2 ESV). Since such pleas for mercy are so rare today we must suppose that we no longer believe we need mercy like those under the old covenant. This may have a lot to do with their longing for atonement.
The cry “be merciful to me, O God”10)See Biblical References Ps 6:2 ESV; Ps 30:10 ESV; Ps 31:9 ESV; Ps 57:1 ESV often arises in the psalms with a plea for forgiveness.
After the sin with Bathsheba David desperately petitions God, vs.1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.vs.2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Pss. 51:1-2 ESV).
All the prophets know God is essentially an atoning God (e.g. Ezek 16:63 ESV).
Daniel’s urgent prayer (ch.9) for release from Babylonian exile carries an indelible sense of need for the mercy of God, vs.3 “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes…. vs. 9 “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him…. vs.11 All Israel has transgressed your law… the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses… have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned….. vs.17 Now, therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. vs.18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations… For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. vs.19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God…” ” (Dan 9 3,9,11,17, 18-19 ESV) The only hope for those who rebel against God’s law is his undeserved mercy.
At the heart of the divine provision for mercy in the Old Testament is the “mercy seat”. The sin of the people was atoned for through the application of sacrificial blood to the cover on the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement11)See Biblical References Ex 25:17, 22 ESV; Lev 16:2, 14 ESV f; cf. Heb 4:16 ESV; Heb 9:5 ESV. This was a ritual full of rich symbolism.
Over the ark and between the cherubim rested the glory of God where he met with his people12)See Biblical References Exodus 25:17, 22 ESV; Exodus 29:42 ESV; Exodus 30:36 ESV; Leviticus 16:2 ESV; Leviticus 16:14 ESV. From there, the Lord governed Israel with the ark as his footstool and the site of his worship13)See Biblical References 1 Sam 4:4 ESV; Ps 99:1, 5 ESV; 1 Chron 28:2 ESV.
Inside the ark, however, were the Ten Commandments witnessing to their failure to keep God’s Law and consequent condemnation under divine wrath.
This was especially clear in Israel’s history as these were the second copy of the tablets made after Moses broke the original copy incited by the worship of the golden calf14)See Biblical References Ex 32:19 ESV; Deut 10:5 ESV.
The sacrificial blood sprinkled on the mercy seat over the tablets of the law made it the place where God’s anger was turned away from (cf. Ps 85:1-3 ESV).
As such the mercy seat was a symbol of the merciful power of God and the site where the heavenly King gave revelation15)See Biblical References Exod 25:22 ESV; Lev 16:2 ESV; Num 7:89 ESV concerning his laws, which apart from atonement were completely unbearable.
The mercy seat was a place of forgiveness in God’s closest earthly presence and a symbol that mercy triumphs over judgement.
The mercy seat mediated between the holiness of God and sin so that a forgiven people could continue to worship Yahweh in his presence at a sanctuary cleansed from the pollution of sin (Lev 16:16 ESV).
Through the sprinkled blood on the Day of Atonement God was favourable to the vows and prayers of his people. This was a wonderful system given by God’s mercy for the conveyance of mercy. But Israel only presumed upon it.
OBSTACLES TO MERCY
Generations refused to remove the pagan “high places” which were centres of idolatrous worship16)See Biblical References 1 Ki 15:14 ESV; 2 Ki 12:3 ESV; 2 Ki 14:4 ESV; 2 Ki 15:35 ESV; though God had commanded them to be destroyed without mercy17)See Biblical References Deut 7:1-2 ESV; Deut 13:8 ESV; Deut 19:13 ESV.
To substitute pagan sacred sites for the God-designated place of holy worship in the temple was to reject the appointed means of atonement.
The love affair of the people with merciless idols, “Leave Israel alone, because she is married to idolatry.”18)See Biblical References Hos 4:17 ESV; Hos 9:10 ESV, meant, the Lord had to send them into Babylonian exile far away from priest; temple and land19)See Biblical References Isa 47:6 ESV; Jer 13:14 ESV; Jer 21:7 ESV; Zech 1:12 ESV. The divine strategy is always to pour out wrath, not to annihilate, but so mercy might be remembered by the people and called forth by their pleas to the ever-open heart of God.
In the end, the tender-hearted mercy of God will triumph over his “strange and alien” work of judgement (Isa 28:21 ESV). In the midst of a Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians Lamentations pronounces; vs.22 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; vs.23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23 ESV).
So the faithful covenant God prophesied a return from exile, “ “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” ” (Jer 31:9 ESV). God is a merciful Father whose mercies are without limit.
The prophets, possessed with a knowledge that “God delights in mercy” and forgiveness (Mic 7:18-19 ESV) predicted a time when the cycle of rebellion and grace would end 20)See Biblical References Isa 14:1 ESV; Isa 49:13 ESV; Isa 54:7 ESV; Jer 12:15 ESV; Jer 33:26 ESV; Ezek 39:25 ESV; Zech 1:16 ESV, a time of Final mercy.
“ “And I will pour out …a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn….On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.“And in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land…And also I will remove from the land…the spirit of uncleanness.” (Zech 12:10, 13:1-2 ESV).
Everything that had ever been symbolised by the cleansing and atoning rituals of the mercy seat would be finally true for the people of God. This was great hope, a hope which we know has been fully realised in Jesus.
The psalmists speak unapologetically about their great need for mercy, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:2 ESV), vs.2 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled…. (Pss 6:2 ESV) vs.9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, Yes, my soul and my body!” (Pss 31:9 ESV).
This is clear in the Old Testament, but do we realise that God’s people today have been struck by his justice so we might be moved to appeal for mercy. There is a gift of distress that earnestly entreats the divine favour (Hos 5:15 ESV).
P.T. Forsyth challenges us, “With us, mercy belongs to our spare time, with God it is his business…. The mercy of God is no near and so great that we often cannot see it.” (P.T. Forsyth).
Many Christians have never really felt the majesty of God’s mercy. Since the mercy of God is felt most acutely in his treatment of sin the Church needs a new revelation of forgiveness. Here is one of my favourite liturgical prayers,
“O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Collect for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Perhaps we should ask the Lord to speak to us about our how high places, family, finances, sport, prosperity, church, leisure, ministry…. and to ask him how he feels about them. Perhaps he will share the burden of his heart for the state of our hearts so that moved by his grief we might call out for his mercy.
04: Mercy and Judgement.
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 26th May 2019 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
YouTube or PODCAST:
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Biblical References Isa 49:15 ESV; Isa 63:15-16 ESV; Ps 103:13 ESV|
|2.||↑||See Biblical References Deut 4:31 ESV; Ps 116:5 ESV; Neh 9:31 ESV|
|3.||↑||See Biblical References Pss 119:156 ESV; Pss 145:8-9 ESV; Pss 149:5 ESV|
|4.||↑||See Biblical References Deut 5:10 ESV; Pss 57:10 ESV; Pss 86:5 ESV|
|5.||↑||See Biblical References 1 Chron 16:34 ESV; 2 Chron 7:6 ESV; Ps 136 ESV; Jer 33:11 ESV|
|6.||↑||See Biblical References Ps 51:8 ESV b|
|7.||↑||See Biblical References Job 15:20 ESV; Prov 13:15 ESV Eccl 8:6 ESV|
|8.||↑||See Biblical References cf. Ps 78:37 ESV ff.|
|9.||↑||See Biblical References Hos 1:9 ESV; Hos 2:4 ESV; Zech 1:12 ESV|
|10.||↑||See Biblical References Ps 6:2 ESV; Ps 30:10 ESV; Ps 31:9 ESV; Ps 57:1 ESV|
|11.||↑||See Biblical References Ex 25:17, 22 ESV; Lev 16:2, 14 ESV f; cf. Heb 4:16 ESV; Heb 9:5 ESV|
|12.||↑||See Biblical References Exodus 25:17, 22 ESV; Exodus 29:42 ESV; Exodus 30:36 ESV; Leviticus 16:2 ESV; Leviticus 16:14 ESV|
|13.||↑||See Biblical References 1 Sam 4:4 ESV; Ps 99:1, 5 ESV; 1 Chron 28:2 ESV|
|14.||↑||See Biblical References Ex 32:19 ESV; Deut 10:5 ESV|
|15.||↑||See Biblical References Exod 25:22 ESV; Lev 16:2 ESV; Num 7:89 ESV|
|16.||↑||See Biblical References 1 Ki 15:14 ESV; 2 Ki 12:3 ESV; 2 Ki 14:4 ESV; 2 Ki 15:35 ESV|
|17.||↑||See Biblical References Deut 7:1-2 ESV; Deut 13:8 ESV; Deut 19:13 ESV|
|18.||↑||See Biblical References Hos 4:17 ESV; Hos 9:10 ESV|
|19.||↑||See Biblical References Isa 47:6 ESV; Jer 13:14 ESV; Jer 21:7 ESV; Zech 1:12 ESV|
|20.||↑||See Biblical References Isa 14:1 ESV; Isa 49:13 ESV; Isa 54:7 ESV; Jer 12:15 ESV; Jer 33:26 ESV; Ezek 39:25 ESV; Zech 1:16 ESV|